Scarface is based on this wild true story

To this day, it remains one of the most cited films in modern cinema history. Anyone who’s ever heard the lines “Say hello to my little friend” or “I’ll cut him up real nice for a green card” will know they’re from the 1983 masterpiece scarfacedirector Brian de Palmais a paean to the gangster genre. The film traces the rise and fall of Tony Montana, a fugitive from Cuba’s 1980 Mariel exodus as he climbs the bloodstained rungs of the drug underworld to become Miami’s “Cocaine King.” Al Pacino, whose wacky and frantic portrayal of insane Montana earned him a Golden Globe nomination in 1984, was so compelling that some moviegoers believed the story of the terribly deadly narcotic boss was about a real person. And it really was.


What is surprising, however, is the discovery that scarface‘s Tony Montana is not at all based on the life of a modern-day nose-candy overlord. No, Tony Montana is modeled after the notorious gangster, pimp and smuggler tsar of the 1920s and 30s Al Capone. To understand how the much-feared, cigar-chomping, fedora-wearing Capone morphed into coke-snorting, M16-wielding Montana requires a journey into the movie world of yesteryear.

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Scarface is actually a remake

Al Pacino as Tony Montana in Scarface
Image via Universal Pictures

De Palmas scarface was actually a remake of the 1932 Howard Hawks And Richard Rosson-directed film of the same name with Paul Mun as Tony Camonte, the young man from humble beginnings who rises through the underground ranks to become Chicago’s greatest bootlegger despot. The screenplay of the film, written by Ben Hechtwas derived from the 1930 novel scarface by pulp fiction author Armitage Trail, which was a thinly veiled tale of Al Capone’s rise to infamy. Capone’s nickname was “Scarface,” a fact Trail (a pseudonym for Maurice Coons) no doubt picked up on while living in Chicago in the 1920s and mingling with underworld figures associated with Capone while researching his book .

In the 1932 film, Tony Camonte becomes the head of a smuggling syndicate that just so happened to be the real Capone’s main illicit business, though prostitution, gambling, drug dealing, extortion and murder were just a small slice of his other “side of Hustle.” A particularly memorable one Sequence in the film is a montage of Camonte and his henchmen carrying out a citywide massacre of Camonte’s enemies, a clear nod to the 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre, a violent event orchestrated by Capone that killed seven of his rivals, although the version of 1932 was considered shocking for its time scarfacehampered by Hollywood’s Hays Code, was limited in his ability to portray the true violence that is synonymous with the Capone name.

Al Pacino saw an opportunity for a remake

Al Pacino firing an assault rifle in Scarface
Image via Universal Pictures

Fast forward 51 years later where Al Pacino attends a screening of the 1932 film. “I went and watched this movie and called (producer) Martin Bregman after that,” Pacino recalled during a 2011 question-and-answer session about the making of the 1983 film. “I said, ‘I think we could do this thing. Here’s a remake.’” But a new version of scarface would need a story with a contemporary angle, and that’s the screenwriter Olivier Stein comes into picture. In the original film, Tony Camonte is a low life from the wrong side of the tracks, overcoming his poor circumstances to emerge as one of the world’s most prominent crime bosses.

Stone had the idea to discontinue the updated version scarface against the background of the real events of the 1980 Cuban flotilla from the Mariel Islands to the United States. Rumor has it that a significant portion of the immigrants who arrived during this period were petty thieves and other outlaw individuals, and Stone felt it made sense to have Tony Montana, the new version of the main character, among those inspired by the communist dictator Fidel Castro, giving the film a sense of real-time relevance and accessibility. And so Al Capone, aka Tony Camonte, aka Tony Montana, became a Cuban immigrant.

‘The characters of Scarface are based on the real-life cohorts of Al Capone

Al Pacino in Scar Face (1983)
Image via Universal Pictures

Although De Palma’s version of scarface revolves around the drug trade, Tony Montana’s story is reminiscent of Capone’s, particularly in the narration of how Montana becomes involved in his peccant universe. Capone, who ran with a street gang as a youth in the early 20th century, was taken under the wing of Frankie Yale, an Italian immigrant who headed a World War I-era crime cartel involved in a variety of thugs, including prostitution and blackmail, employed . It was Yale who mentored Capone and helped him rise in the gangland subculture.

In scarfaceFrankie Vale is Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia), the car dealer/cocaine smuggler for whom Montana commits murder in exchange for legal status as a nonresident alien. Lopez rewards Montana with a series of other jobs involving shootings and dismemberments, thus securing Montana’s place in Lopez’s deviant business venture. Montana’s sidekick during his exploits, Manny Ribera (Stephen Bauer), probably based on Capone’s right-hand man Frank Nitti, Capone’s first cousin who served the crime boss faithfully and stepped in to keep the criminal business running after Capone was imprisoned in 1932.

In addition to his cousin Frank, Capone assembled a cadre of minions to support and protect him as his power and influence grew. Some of the most prominent in Capone’s circle were formidable hooligans such as William White, Murray Humphreys, Marcus Looney, Charles Fischetti and William O’Donnell, all of whom helped orchestrate some of Capone’s bloodiest plots of influence and revenge. In scarfacethese idiots are fused into two primary thug characters, Ernie (Arnaldo Santana), Lopez’s former stubborn bodyguard, and Nick the Pig (Michael P Moran), Montana’s longtime boyfriend who becomes one of his toughest guys. Unfortunately, both Lopez and Nick meet their creators late in the film in a drug-fueled portrayal of Capone’s Valentine’s Day massacre.

The female characters in the film are largely fictitious

Michelle Pfeiffer Scarface
Image via Universal Pictures

Although the events and characters in De Palma’s scarface Closely modeled on the world of Al Capone and largely fictionalized, the stories of the women in Tony Montana’s life bear little resemblance to the female characters in Capone’s life. In scarfaceMontana has one sister, Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), whom he fiercely protects and who begins a romance with Montana’s confidante Manny. Capone came from a large family of six brothers and two sisters, one of whom died before her first birthday. Capone’s only surviving sister, Mafalda, was not a big part of her brother’s life and avoided his criminal involvements altogether. In scarface, Gina is gunned down by a hitman who is about to attack Montana, something that has obviously never happened in Capone’s life. Then there’s Montana’s girlfriend – and later his wife – Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer), the mistress of Montana’s former mentor Lopez.

In scarface, Montana comes to America as a single who steals Elvira from her slimy benefactor, but in real life Al Capone had a wife, Mae, whom he married when he was 19, with whom he had a son, and with whom he remained until his death in 1947. It’s widely accepted that Capone had a series of extramarital affairs throughout his marriage, but whether he had a single long-term mistress remains a matter of debate. Some historians have written that Capone hid a 15-year-old friend in a Chicago apartment, while another offbeat story involves a mysterious French friend named Vera (hence the similarity to the name “Elvira” in scarface), whose ghost haunts a home in Halifax, Florida today. Whatever antics Capone may have undertaken with women other than his wife, they appear to have been discreet and devoid of the drama depicted scarface.

Tony Montana’s downfall was nothing like Al Capone’s

Al Pacino as Tony Montana in Scarface
Image via Universal Pictures

Another freedom scarface takes is in his portrayal of the ultimate demise of the title character. The film ends in a nearly six-minute frenzy of white mounds of cocaine, bare breasts, Sandinista-style crushes and thousands of bullets fired amid a sea of ​​red velvet carpet and spiral staircases, culminating in Montana’s final plunge into an indoor pool in front of a garishly gilded sculpture with the inscription “The World is Yours”. Quite a contrast to the actual end of Capone’s life. In 1931, Capone was convicted of the rather unsexy crime of tax evasion. After being imprisoned at Alcatraz, he was released in 1939 due to health complications from syphilis (confirming the belief that Capone had many girlfriends throughout his life).

The only real parallel between Capone’s death and Montana’s death is that they both died at their homes in Florida – Montana in a fire storm and Capone of a heart attack in 1947. Ironically, Capone’s death most closely resembled that of another fictional movie gangster. Marlon Brando‘s Don Vito Corleone, who in The Godfather, succumbs to cardiac arrest in his backyard. But a silent death would not have been enough scarfacea film best remembered for its intense and protracted violence.

Al Capone’s enduring presence in pop culture

Perhaps the most interesting thing about it scarface, both the 1932 original and the 1983 version, is the incredible influence and stamina of the notorious Al Capone, a man so obscenely mired in lawlessness and corruption that he inspired a novel and two films, and is still immortalized to this day public awareness remains. One cannot help but wonder what Capone would have made of his portrayal by Paul Muni in the original film and his reincarnation as a Cuban drug lord by Pacino in the remake. Knowing Capone’s cruel and shameful ways, he probably would have been flattered and amused by it all. Scarface is based on this wild true story

Dustin Huang

Dustin Huang is a 24ssports U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Dustin Huang joined 24ssports in 2021 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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